Contemporary Nigerian Romance Fiction Story Series

Happy Tuesday! I have been taking a long break, but I’m glad to be back.  🙂  Thanks for being so so patient.  Special thanks for everyone who asked after me.  I am deeply grateful! 😀 Today, I’ll be sharing another episode of our Nigerian Romance story series, Falling in Love With My Best Friend.  In this episode, we explore the mystery behind that card addressed to Akinola Ladoja, and answer all those outstanding questions.

In case you’re just starting this series, please help yourself to Episode 1.  🙂

Have an awesome week, guys! Episode 17 will be up next week.  Seriously.

READ EPISODES 1 – 16

Episode 16: The Wrong Card?

 

Unfortunately for Mrs. Williams, the person who received the hamper, and in fact, inspected the card, was the one person who should never have seen it.

My mother.  The Mrs. Ladoja.

As the rest of the world knows, except Mrs. Williams apparently, only a wife has any business sending a card with the words, “Loving” and “Husband” bound together in such close proximity, or in this case, on the same line.

Maybe she didn’t get that memo.

It was when Mr. Rufus had delivered the hamper and left that my mother began to examine each item, one by one.

All of a sudden, I heard a loud scream from the parlor downstairs.

My first thought was:

“Mummy has cut herself with a knife.  Again.”

That was the only logical explanation for the pained and fearful scream I heard.

My father was out.  He had gone to play lawn tennis with some friends in Ikoyi.  Yemi and I were the only other people at home as Tayo had not yet returned home for the holidays.

We heard our mother’s scream at the same time, and with each of us, tortured in our minds, by our individual versions of the calamity we believed had befallen our mother, we tore downstairs, skipping steps in our rush.

I jumped two or three steps at a time, but I still got to the bottom of the stairs after Yemi who had skipped the stairs altogether.  He slid down the metal banisters, yelping in pain when the law of friction set his derriere on fire.

But there was no time for first aid.

Almost falling over each other, we rushed into the parlor, bracing ourselves for the worst.

What we didn’t, or at least, I didn’t expect, was to find our mother standing on her two feet, her entire body tense and stiff, eyes fixed on something in her hand.  The half-opened hamper sat on the dining table, the bow and plastic wrapping cast aside like the F9 every student rejects with unreserved vehemence.

I looked at Yemi.  He had the same disgusted, yet relieved look on his face. I was sure my face bore an identical expression.

“Mummy, what is it?” I said, unable to hide the alarm I had carried from my bedroom to the parlor.

“Yes, Mummy.  We heard you scream,” said Yemi, approaching her cautiously. “Are you okay?”

For a moment, she ignored us, and began talking to herself.  It was as if there was no one else in the room.

“Ah … Kofo.  So you tried it?  Didn’t they tell you this type of thing is not done? Least of all, to me, Asake,” she began, beating her chest with the fury one might employ after swallowing too much pepper, accompanied by heavy coughing.

“Mummy, who is–” I began, planting myself directly in front of her.

“Mi-si-si-wee-lee-yem-zi! Iya Tokunbo!” said my mother finally, with exaggerated emphasis, shedding some light on the mystery Yemi and I still hadn’t solved.

“Mrs. Williams? Mummy, what did she do?” I asked.

“No, Enitan.  The real question is what did she not do,” said my mother, handing the card she had attempted, and failed, to crumple up, to me.  The uneven, bunched-up sections of a card that had been, at a point in its life, as flat as a sheet of paper, was what led me to that conclusion.  I took the card from her, and read it with Yemi standing over my shoulder, doing the same.

I read the first line out loud.

The cover read: “To a Loving Husband.”  Then, after flipping it open, the brief words inscribed in the inner page read:

Forever is not enough

To show what you mean to me

But forever is all we have

And there’s no one else I’d rather spend it with

 

Below these words, in green ink, in a clear, legible handwriting were the only words in the entire card that told us who it was meant for:

 

To Akinola Ladoja

 

I had stopped reading aloud after the first line (“Forever is not enough”) because before I got to the end of that line, my mother shouted in Yoruba:

“Don’t let my ears hear it! Read it to yourself!”

I completed reading the words to myself and turned around to look at Yemi who just shook his head slowly, and said:

“Trouble is knocking …”

And he simply left it at that.  Patting me on the shoulder, he whispered:

“This is women’s stuff, ehn and you’re the older one.  Carry go!”

While I was still gaping at him in disbelief, he shot a glance that said, “Solidarity forever!” at my mother, whose glare could have instantly transformed a block of ice to a puddle of water.  Then, he disappeared from her presence.

I knew I didn’t have the luxury of simply vamoosing from my mother’s presence like Yemi had just done, but in that moment, I wished I did.  My mother did not even call him back.  It seemed she expected me to understand her predicament, see how she was wronged, and somehow fix it.

I didn’t know what to make of the entire affair, but I felt like there was some great mystery behind all this, which could only be solved by the instigator herself: Mrs. Williams.

But how would we ever get her to explain herself?

“Mummy, there has to be an explanation for this–” I began, my voice conveying the level of doubt I had about that very statement.

“Yes.  The explanation is that Mrs. Williams is a brazen-faced husband snatcher! And she has dared to send this useless piece of evidence to me in my own house.  Ah! Some people will roast o! They will roast,” my mother sang in a bitter voice.

And in a louder voice, loud enough for people at least four streets away to hear her voice, she shouted:

Eni keni, I say, anybody, who says I will not enjoy peace in my husband’s house, iro l’epa! You’re lying!”

After sounding that note of warning to her enemies, uttered of course, while facing the direction of the Williams’ house, forefinger shaken vigorously, full of meaning, she turned to me and said:

“When your daddy gets back, tell him I’m waiting for him upstairs,” said my mother, eyes red like someone who had been weeping, except that if she had, there were no tears to show for it.

“Upstairs, ma?” I asked again, more to myself than to my mother.

“Ehn ehn o … On the roof! Jo move out of my way!” she said, before marching upstairs.  Once I heard her door slam shut, I knew she was safe and sound in her room.

I peeped into the kitchen.  There was nothing cooking.

Good!

I decided that it was in my best interest to go and stay in my room until my parents settled this matter.

So, I went back to my room and continued what I had been doing before: loosening my braids.  Except that, this time, I had a new matter to analyze and occupy my thoughts while my hands were otherwise employed.

As I used the ilarun to loosen one row of braided hair, I wondered at the card.

Why would Mrs. Williams send such a card to my father? No doubt it was an insult.  But, why?  What could she hope to gain?

And why a birthday card?  Yes, my father’s birthday was in January.  But, how could she have known that?  And if she knew, why was she sending him a birthday card one month in advance?

“None of this makes any sense,” I said to myself over and over again, casting glances at the Williams’ house every now and then, as if I expected the wind blowing from that direction to whisper answers in my ears.

Eventually, I finished loosening my braids and took an hour-long nap, before washing my hair.

I was in the bathroom, working a rich lather into my hair, nostrils welcoming the sweet scent of strawberries, when I heard a loud horn at our gate.  I knew it had to be my father.  No sane visitor would come blasting his car horn at our gate like that.  Knowing the wahala that was already on ground, I decided I didn’t want to hear the gist of what happened.  I had to see or hear it for myself.

So, I hurried up my shampooing, skipping my usual second wash, rinsed off my hair and toweled it dry.  There would be no need for any apoti this time.  My parents’ room was the venue of the imminent show down, and my room was not far from theirs.

I stood massaging some leave-in conditioner into my hair near the slightly open door of my bedroom.  From where I stood, I strained my ears to hear what was going on downstairs.  My father had entered the house after Yemi opened the gate for him.

It was the voice of Yemi, like the voice of an objective third party reciting standard facts, that I heard telling my father where the surprise package sitting on our dining table had come from.

I heard my father say in a sincere tone, “That’s very nice of her,” and I chuckled as I thought to myself:

“I bet it is.  You have no idea what else came with that precious hamper.”

It was at that moment that I recalled with horror, that I had absent-mindedly taken the incriminating card upstairs to my room.  It was lying on my table, where I had stuck it back into the lilac envelope it came in.

“No!” I hissed.  Hurriedly stuffing my hair under a shower cap, I wiped my hands, still covered in the cream-colored conditioner, on the moist towel.  Then, I grabbed the card and ran out to meet my father who had begun his slow ascent up the stairs.  I met him just as he reached the top of the stairs.

“Good afternoon, Daddy,” I greeted him.

“How are you, Enitan? Where’s your mummy?” he asked, still holding the tennis racket in one hand, dressed in a plain white t-shirt and matching white shorts both stained brown by sweat and whatever else stains white clothes on a tennis court.

“She’s in your room, sir,” I replied.

And then, for a moment, I wondered at uniforms.  Here was my father, dressed in the color of the uniforms worn by certain secondary school students.  In fact, that white-on-white was the mandatory sportswear in some schools.

Whose bright idea was it to assign white uniforms to students whose entire day was spent engaging in activities that were guaranteed to soil clothes, especially the boys?  Whose silly idea was it?

It was like these people, the decision-makers, had forgotten that dust and dirt were drawn hypnotically to the dazzling white of fabrics.  Bleach comes to tear these strange lovers apart, but the very next day, their love affair continues.

I thought this was common knowledge.  I concluded that those who made the rules were not the ones who had to engage in the tiresome ritual of stripping dirt from white clothes several times a week.  If they were or had even tried it for one day, they themselves would have changed the rules a long time ago.

I knew that the task of washing my father’s white tennis clothes would fall on me, but at least, it wasn’t a regular chore.

Meanwhile, I held in my hand the card that had stirred my mother’s anger and I handed it over to my father.

“It’s for you, sir,” I said, wishing I didn’t have to be the emissary of bad news.  “It came with the hamper.”

“Oh, I see.  Thank you,” he said, without even opening it.  As I watched my father disappear down the hallway in the direction of his bedroom, I had to bite my tongue to keep from yelling, “Daddy, stop! Read the card and brace yourself, before facing Mummy!”

But experience had taught me to avoid my parents’ confrontations.  My only involvement would be as the eavesdropper by the door of their bedroom.  As I took my position, I discovered that I was not the only person with that idea.

Yemi joined me.

“Does he know?” he whispered to me.

“Shh! Not yet!” I whispered back.

And we both listened to the drama that unfolded in the bedroom.

My father did not know what he had just walked into.  My parents did not employ the “turn-on-the-A/C-to-muffle-our-voices” practice this time around because the air-conditioner had broken down just that week and the repairman had gone in search of the necessary spare part to be installed the following Tuesday.

Meanwhile, there was the issue of the card between them.

My father started with, “Bawo ni, Asake?” to my mother.  He was met with complete silence. We, the listeners at the door knew our mother was awake because the next words my father uttered were: “Ahn ahn, Asake. Won’t you even greet me?  What’s the matter?”

More silence.

Yemi poked me in the ribs.

“Let me stand closer,” he whispered aloud in a conspiratorial tone.  “I want to hear them well well.”

“My friend, will you keep quiet!” I whispered back with a viciousness that told Yemi that I meant business.  In that moment where we had that brief exchange of words, we both missed what my parents said to each other.  The next words I heard came from my mother.

“You’re the one encouraging her.  If not, she wouldn’t have the audacity to send such a useless card to me in my own house.  I’m sure she saw you leave and sent that her yeye driver to come and drop that rubbish package.  She wanted me to see it!” my mother fumed.

“Ehn … But I’m sure there’s a good explanation for this, Asake.  There’s no need to read meanings into innocent gestures,” said my father.

A high-pitched laugh followed.  It came from my mother, and it was targeted at my father, to show him exactly what she thought of his preceding statement.

“Innocent? Please, Baba Tayo, don’t use that word where Iya Tokunbo is concerned.  She’s a conniving, sneaky, calculating, morally bankrupt, nasty piece of–” my mother said.

“It’s enough! I said it’s okay!” my father thundered.  But my mother wasn’t done.

“Just because her own marriage didn’t work, doesn’t mean she should spoil other people’s homes.  I’m sure she’ll say it was a mistake, and–” my mother continued spitefully.

“Asake, I’m disappointed in you.  That was really below the belt.  Totally uncalled for.  What does Mrs. Williams’ marriage have to do with ours?  No, no … You should know better.  You know what? In fact, I know what I’ll do.  Let me send for her.  Where are these children?”

The moment I heard the last statement, I knew what was coming next.  I turned to warn Yemi only to see him tearing down the hallway on tip-toe.  Following his lead, I took to my heels too.

Fortunately for us, my father’s usual practice was to shout our names as loud as he could behind closed doors, perhaps hoping that his voice could penetrate through the cement walls and reach us wherever we were.  So, that was his first move, and it gave us time to make a proper escape.

Still standing in his bedroom with the door closed, he called out:

“Enitan! Yemi!”

Answer ke? For where?  If I answered him at the first call, I would betray my location and what I was doing beforehand.  Yemi knew this too.  So we both kept quiet and waited for the second call.  Like clockwork, it came, louder, more urgent and more serious than the first.

This time, as I had predicted, he opened the door of his room, before shouting.

By this time, I had safely reached my bedroom and closed the door gently.  Yemi had reached his room before mine, and so when he heard my father call out, it was like we both heard it at the same time because our collective response, chanted from two different rooms, arrived at the same time.

“Sir!” we both shouted.

“Come here! Now!”

We both stepped out of our rooms, our feet travelling eagerly in the direction of our parents’ bedroom.  Our little ruse tickled Yemi who noisily suppressed several giggles as we neared the bedroom, but wore a stoic appearance as soon as we stood before my father.

My mother was pulling bed sheets off the bed, humming a tune, when we entered.  The door was already ajar, but Yemi still knocked before going inside.  I followed closely behind him.

Turning to both of us, a look of suppressed anger on his face, my father was in a no-nonsense mood.  He had pulled off the white shirt, revealing the singlet he wore underneath.  I could see tufts of bushy hair struggling to escape from his armpits when he raised his arms just a little.

Not quite sure who to send on this errand, he began by addressing us both.

“You know Mrs. Williams?” he said, pointing towards her house with his forefinger.

I chuckled inwardly.  I wanted to say:

“Know her? Daddy, her son is simply marvelous and he’s–” but I thought better of it.

“Yes, sir,” I replied.  Yemi echoed my response.

“Good.  Now … In fact, I think it’s better you go, Enitan,” said my father, selecting the person who was to go on this all-important mission.  But Yemi still stood there.

Noticing, it seemed for the first time, the shower cap sitting on my head, my father asked:

“Did you forget that plastic on your head?”

“No, sir,” I replied wondering if he never noticed it when I gave him the card.  He must have thought I forgot to remove it since I took a bath that morning.

“In that case, you see Mrs. Williams house? Go there and ask her to come and see me urgently.”

From the corner of my eye, I spied my mother about to protest about having Mrs. Williams come to our house, but thinking better of it, she closed her mouth, and proceeded to strip the pillows of their cases.

“Alright, sir,” I said.

I wondered why we couldn’t just call her on the phone, but I decided not to argue with my father.  He did not seem to be in any mood to entertain contradictions from his teenage daughter.

So, I tied a scarf on top of the shower cap, taking care to hide the plastic covering under the black-and-white striped scarf.

I changed into a more errand-friendly dress and went to the Williams’ house.

After knocking about four times, a girl came to the gate.  She looked to be about my age, but dressed more shabbily.  I guessed she was a new house help as I had never seen her before.

“Is Madam around?” I asked, not really because I wanted to speak with Madam in person, but just so I would know if Mrs. Williams would startle me with her presence.

“Yes.  She’s upstairs,” said the girl.

“I’m your neighbor,” I said, “–from that house,” I said pointing with my thumb at our house.  “My father is Mr. Ladoja.  He wants her to come and see him now now.”

I turned to go, but she tapped me gently on the shoulder, and said, “I think it’s better if you tell her yourself.”

I was puzzled.  “Can’t you tell her?” I asked.

“It’s better you tell her,” she insisted.  “She’s inside,” she added, pointing at an indeterminate room indoors.

“Okay,” I sighed in resignation.  “Let’s go.”

The girl led the way into the house.  It was the first time I had ever been inside the Williams’ compound, not to mention actually going inside their house, and I was filled with an inexplicable sense of wonder, mixed with nervous excitement.  I expected to run into Tokunbo at every turn, and that perhaps, fueled my excitement, because I had never visited him at home before.

Cobbled stones paved the entire yard and the modern architecture of the house spoke of the type of wealth that seemed out of place in our part of Surulere where some of the houses had been around since the 80s.

Cream-colored walls paired with red terraced roofing, in some ways, made the house look like it belonged on a beachfront rather than a densely-populated suburb.

Indoors, the housemaid led the way to a spacious well-furnished room, which she informed me was the visitor’s parlor.  From there, I could see another sitting room, which looked cozier, more homely than the place where I was seated.  I guessed that that was the family parlor.

All over the visitor’s parlor, I saw evidence of Mrs. Williams’ travels standing as witnesses to the many happenings in the house: flags from different countries, sculptures, carvings and other art work I had never seen before and couldn’t name, were arranged on the walls and shelves.

There were no family pictures in this room, but from where I sat, I could make out a few picture frames in the inner parlor.

The house was so quiet I could hear the gentle hum of the A/C.  I wondered if anyone was at home.  As I rubbed my palms together to warm myself in the freezing room, I asked myself how Tokunbo and Omoyele had lived in this quiet house.

Had the house changed as they grew older or was I looking at a picture of the house exactly as it had been five years earlier?

The maid left me sitting there on a single-seater sofa, and I heard her enter the kitchen.  I thought she would go upstairs and call Madam, but that must have been contrary to the usual protocol.

Instead, she went to the kitchen, and picking up the receiver of a phone, I heard her say:

“Madam, omo ile keji n wa yin, ma (Madam, the girl from the house next door is looking for you, ma).”

Mrs. Williams must have asked which specific neighbor she was referring to because the girl said:

Omo Mr. Ladoja, ma (Mr. Ladoja’s daughter, ma).”

At this point, the girl must have decided she had spoken enough Yoruba for one phone call as she continued in English from that point forwards.

“Her father wants you to come and see her now, ma,” she said.

As if she had a 6th sense of what I had come for, the maid left the kitchen and went to meet Mrs. Williams upstairs.  From where I sat, I heard a loud female voice talking, shouting actually, and by the time the door opened again, I heard that voice shout:

Alakoba! Oniranu!” before the door slammed shut again.

I heard the girl sobbing quietly at the top of the stairs, and she must have wiped her eyes before she came downstairs because by the time she stood before me again, her face was dry, but her eyes still glistened with unshed tears.  A look of sadness had replaced the cheerful disposition I had observed earlier and she told me in a low voice:

“She says she’s coming to your house now.”

“What happened? Why are you crying?” I asked, alarmed that somehow I had something to do with her sorrow.

She refused to answer my questions and just repeated a shorter version of her earlier statement.

“She’s coming.”

I had no choice but to leave, racked with guilt.  I had not arrived at home more than five minutes when a knock at our gate informed me that Mrs. Williams had kept her word, and was here to see my father.  Instead of going to the gate, I made for the side of the house where the apoti was waiting for me.  I left Yemi to dispense of the gateman duties and usher Mrs. Williams into the house.

Moving from the usual position where I sat below the window, I stood up and looked into the parlor.  There, I spied Mrs. Williams, not sitting down, but standing, looking tense and visibly troubled.

That was my second inkling that perhaps my father’s “mistake” theory might be closer to the truth than the conspiracy theory my mother firmly held onto.  The first clue, of course, was the choice of abusive words Mrs. Williams had hurled at her housemaid while I waited downstairs.

Alakoba. Oniranu.

But what had really happened? Only Mrs. Williams could answer that question.

I heard the rush of feet as Yemi hurried to tell my father that Mrs. Williams had arrived.

As soon as my father arrived, Mrs. Williams greeted him warmly.  He acknowledged her greeting, but she refused to sit down, even when he insisted.  Clearly, what was troubling her had to be said standing up.

“Daddy Tayo, I got your message that I should see you urgently, but–” she began.

“Yes! It’s because of the … the hamper.  First of all, thank you very much for the package.  I applaud your generosity.  But–” and here, my father’s voice got at least 50% more hardened and serious than before, “–I think there was a mix-up with the card.”  He handed the offensive card to her and watched her reaction.

Cries of “Ha! Ha!” followed by “This isn’t what I asked for,” came from Mrs. Williams.

“It’s okay, Iya Tokunbo,” said my father.  “I just want to know what really happened.  That’s all.”

“Ah no, Daddy Tayo, it’s not okay at all.  After all the help you gave with Tokunbo? No.  Once they said you wanted to talk to me, something just told me to go and cross-check about this card.  That’s where my mind just went to,” she began, snapping her fingers once to show how quickly her mind zoomed in on the potential problem.

And here, her voice got softer.  She assumed a more penitent demeanor as I observed from where I stood beside the window, peeping into the parlor.

“Actually, sir, it’s all my fault,” she continued, wringing her hands.  “–Ummm … I sent someone to … In fact, I even brought the list …”

At this point, I saw her pull out a folded sheet of paper from the pocket of the capri pants she wore under a loose-fitting blouse.  My father, sensing that in witnessing this great exposition, two were better than one, told Mrs. Williams to hold on, and called out for Yemi. Once he appeared, my father ordered:

“Go and call your Mummy for me.”

Amazingly, my mother appeared within a minute, which led me to conclude that she herself must have been standing not far off, probably in the hallway, listening to them.

As soon as she entered the parlor, Mrs. Williams abandoned my father and rushed to my mother’s side.  And then, in spite of my mother’s stiffness, the two greeted each other with side hugs and laughter, talking about not seeing each other for such a long time.

Was I dreaming? Were they really pretending to be friends?

For the first time, as I saw them standing side by side, I realized that they could get along if they really wanted.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing. They asked after each other’s children, and then my mother took her seat beside my father who looked at them both in disbelief.  In fact, his face conveyed my emotions in that moment.  Once they were all seated again, Mrs. Williams quickly steered the conversation back in the direction of the card.

“Can we offer you anything?” my mother asked in a gentle voice I couldn’t believe was really coming from her.  In this same sitting room, that very morning, she had almost burnt the offensive card with the arrows of fire darting from her eyes.

“No, no.  Don’t trouble yourself,” said Mrs. Williams declining the offer.  Rather than waiting for any further prompting, she began to shed light on the mystery behind the unwelcome card.

“You see, I gave my house help, Peace, a list of names.  Here it is,” she said, passing the sheet of paper she had unveiled before my mother’s arrival, to my father.  He glanced at it, and then passed it on to my mother.  My mother held onto the list much longer, scrutinizing it with the thoroughness of a detective or a teacher looking for spelling errors.

“Oh, you know Mr. Lanre Famakinwa? The one who works at UAC?” my mother said, zeroing in on a familiar name, the list still firmly in her grip.  Mrs. Williams nodded her affirmation.

Pouncing on the opportunity presented to her, Mrs. Williams launched into the details of her ordeal with her housemaid and the list.

“I wrote the list, and told her to address the Christmas cards to all the people on that list.  I said, “Make sure you put ‘AND FAMILY’ at the end of each one o” … She said, “Yes ma.”  At the same time, I had given her a birthday card to return.  You see, Tokunbo’s father’s birthday is this month, and I told her to buy a card that says, “To a Loving Father.”  I don’t know whether this girl was sleeping or her ears were blocked when I was talking to her o! When she came back, it was “To a Loving Husband” that she brought back!”

As recognition started coming, my mother interjected with:

S’eri awon omo odo yi, won o bosi rara (You see these house helps ehn, they’re no good at all).”

My father grunted his affirmation.  Mrs. Williams practically shouted, “Thank you, sir! Exactly!” before continuing with:

Won o bosi rara (they’re no good at all), but we need them.  So, what can we do?  Simple instructions! I gave her a pack of Christmas cards and told her to address them, and put them with each hamper.  Look at what she did.  Not only did she keep the wrong birthday card, she kuku addressed it to you, and didn’t even address it properly.  It was not until your daughter came to call me that I realized that she had not yet told me if she bought the correct birthday card.  It was when I asked her that she said–” and here, Mrs. Williams jumped into a near-perfect imitation of her housemaid’s voice,

“–Mummy, I mixed them up, ma!”

My parents shook their heads at the same time.

“Maybe she got carried away, addressing so many cards,” my father suggested.

“–Or maybe the cards were similar?” said my mother.

“Emmm … it could be because both the Christmas card and the birthday card have red ink!  But they’re different.  One is Christmas, the other is birthday. How do you mix up something so simple? And she went to school o.  Up to JS3.  She’s not an illiterate.  So, please–” and here, Mrs. Williams tried to kneel down, but my mother swiftly prevented it, insisting that she understood Mrs. Williams’ rather convoluted explanation.

Alakoba l’omo yen ke.  Look at all the trouble she caused now.  Akoba adaba–” Mrs. Williams began.

“–Olorun maje a ri,” my parents chorused, shaking their heads, with my mother clicking her tongue.

“I just had to come and apologize in person,” said Mrs. Williams, as if she had forgotten that it was my father who had sent for her.  Her voice was now noticeably lighter, less tense than before.  “After all–” and here, she faced my mother, “–I too am a woman, and I know how I would’ve felt if someone sent that type of card to my husband.  Once again, Mama Tayo, accept my sincerest apologies. E ma binu.”

Ko si wahala,” said my mother, her voice carrying the piousness of a saint.  “Nobody is above mistakes.”

From where I stood, I saw Mrs. Williams flinch a bit, like she wanted to tell my mother to forget the apology and give her a condensed sermon on mistakes, but she held her tongue. This was Asake Ladoja’s territory, and Mrs. Williams recognized this, choosing instead, to simply move on.

By the time Mrs. Williams left our house that afternoon, she had made peace with my parents, and promised to send another hamper.  I wasn’t sure whether to classify this second hamper as a peace offering or a guilt offering.  Even my mother couldn’t say “No” to a second hamper.

We all heaved a sigh of relief when Mr. Rufus delivered another one that afternoon, this time with a Christmas card bearing the words, “Seasons Greetings” on the cover, and properly addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. A. Ladoja and family.”

When I relayed these events to Tokunbo the next time I saw him, he explained to me that his mother had really taken out her frustration on the poor housemaid.

“Family feuds have started over less,” he chuckled.

“You don’t say,” I said.  “You need to see all the kata-kata that single card almost caused in our house.

Thankfully, that was the only drama-filled event of the season.  Tayo arrived from school, and spent his last Christmas as a secondary school student at home.  By the time January rolled in, I had gotten my parents to agree that I did not need to attend any after-school lesson for a while.

Once my parents saw that I did much better than they expected in my mock exams, they dropped the whole after-school lesson matter for good.  It was clear to them, and to me, that I did better studying by myself than at any lesson.

My 16th birthday party was a “girls-only” affair, with most of the guests being my classmates.  It was around April, after this celebration, that Tokunbo told me for the first time that he would be throwing a small party for his own 17th birthday in June.

“You already know you’re invited, Enitan,” he said.  “But, here’s your IV anyway.  Now, no excuses.  You better come and don’t give me any silly excuses about baffs.  Your presence is more important to me than all that.”

“I won’t miss it,” I promised.  But as soon as the words had left my mouth, I realized I needed to add the all-important caveat:  “As long as my parents agree.”

Well, my parents agreed, but they premised my attendance on a single condition:

Tayo, my elder brother, would have to accompany me as my chaperone.

Did I really have a choice? No.  Of course, I told them it was okay with me.

From the day my parents gave their consent for me to attend Tokunbo’s 17th, an unescapable restlessness seized me, increasing as the day drew closer.  Since I couldn’t shake it off, I channeled that nervous energy towards a feverish countdown to the D-day.

However, I didn’t realize that I was also counting down to the day when I would come face-to-face with this very real possibility:

Tokunbo could end up with someone whose name wasn’t Enitan Ladoja.

 

<<READ EPISODE 17>>

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