Amaka Nwafor was by all definition a disappointment to her parents. She refused to study medicine as she was instructed; squandered her allowance and worse of all got pregnant at just 19years of age, by a Yoruba boy no less.
Oh yes, Amaka was the blackest of sheep and her parents never let her forget it. Because there is nothing worse than a wild child that started off mild. Amaka grew up obedient and submissive in the Igbo Catholic home she shared with her five siblings. Her father Chinedu Nwafor was an oil tycoon who harboured fantasies of running for office. His wife Ulonna Nwafor enforced her strict rules with a regimen to shame military boot camps. Boys to Men were akin to Satan with their baritones of fornication; form fitting clothes signalled End of Days and make up invited a sponge scrub. Television viewing time was restricted to Tales by Moonlight and Speak out and Kidivision 101. The mere mention of the Spanish soap operas such as: Secrets of the Sand, Wild Rose, or The Rich Also Cry were grounds for beating and prayer interventions. So Amaka lived within this environment and passed her teenage years without a tantrum or a raised voice or a slammed door. That was till she was put on the plane to England.
It began in Manchester University when Amaka denied her offer of Medicine in favour of Psychology. The allure of philosophy, biology and sociology suited her background too perfectly to pass up. Psychology was based in asking why. That was a privilege Amaka was never allowed and she revelled in it. It was a strange new world to her, one where her parents for the first time had no control over her actions or beliefs. It was invigorating, like the first scent of sea after years of drought. In her second semester she met Nabila in a crowded lecture hall and they became partners in a group presentation on Communication Skills.
Then Nabila met Jamal and as those two became joined at the hip, Amaka was left alone with Jamal’s course mate Femi Coker. The Politics and International Relations student found Amaka annoying. Because she hardly ever spoke a word and when she did it was straight out of a text book. It seemed she never had an opinion of her own and clung to her rosary like a life line. But she came with Nabila and Nabila was stuck to Jamal and Jamal was his friend. To cope with the vast amounts of time they were left alone Femi cultivated the habit of teasing her. At first it was just something to do, and then it got fun. It was too easy with Amaka providing material as she knew nothing of Popular Culture. How could she never have heard of TLC? There was her dress sense which resembled that of a convalescing patient, and the fact that she never had a retort. Femi began to look forward to seeing the antique and sometimes kept insults on reserve just for her.
As a guy he never saw the boundaries drawn in the sand till Amaka burst into tears one late afternoon in March. Without the common decency to run into the bathroom as girls usually do she sat there and wept till Femi really felt ashamed of himself. Nabila returned and took her away; Femi saw neither of them for a month and when he found out Jamal’s relationship was suffering as a result he appeared in Amaka’s hall with flowers to grovel for forgiveness. Insisted on taking her out to dinner to make amends and somewhere between the cab ride and the paying the bill Femi saw Amaka in a different light. He had never seen anyone so appreciative of pizza and crispy chicken before. Amaka gazed at their surroundings like it was a candle lit Italian restaurant on the banks of Venice and sipped on her cola like it was a fruity full bodied red wine. At the end of the evening he knew he would insist they be more than friends...
Amaka relayed the story to her children this morning, as she did most days when they insisted on hearing about daddy. She believed they savoured the tale because they recognised every character; that way daddy was more real. Naturally she left out the party animal she became and the drastic make over that occurred as a result of it. Femi’s interest gave her the confidence to relax her hair, wear slinkier outfits and loosen up. Those days of double dating with Nabsy and Jay were the happiest of her life and she loved Femi with a conviction as blind as faith. Even with his flaws and obsession with money. Even as his get-rich schemes investments drained them both of monetary resources, leaving gaping holes in grocery and phone bills. Amaka never stopped believing in Femi and remained his biggest supporter long after his charm wore thin on Nabila and eventually Jamal.
Amaka glanced at the wall clock in her kitchen and bit her lip; they were late but she did not want to rush Chibuzo as he tied his shoelaces for the first time on his own. Her parents would just have to stew and hold their insults for a bit longer. She had not seen or heard from them since Christmas and had been dreading this Easter lunch since the New Year. Chibuzo triumphantly pulled his bow and she applauded and smothered him in kisses eventually dragging Chiamaka in as well. Quickly she bundled them into the car and drove off towards her parent’s hotel. Their insistence on seeing the grandkids was calendar perfect. They only ever visited during the holidays and each time they performed the magic trick of falling in love with twins over again while simultaneously disregarding the mother, their daughter. Amaka honestly only went through this for the children, if anything ever happened to her they were entrusted to her new family of Nabila and Jamal Mujahid. She was estranged from her siblings and did not care to be around them anyway. Amaka took a deep breath as they walked up the stairs to her parent’s hotel suite.
She knocked; her mother opened and in one swift motion pushed Amaka aside bending to swoop up Chiamaka into her arms. She cooed to her in Igbo and beckoned for her husband who had been reading the paper on the balcony. Chibuzo ran to his grandfather and was patted on the back while being told what a man he was becoming. Amaka sat down resting her feet and began the torturous countdown till she could leave. Presents were heaped on the twins before her parents strolled to her.
“Nonye is pregnant”
“Oh” Amaka didn’t care, someone was always pregnant.
“It is a boy by the grace of God”
“Ifeanyi has returned from America they say he is not feeling fine”
“It is well”
“Chukwuma is about to open his own hospital”
“We thank God”
“That boy is just blessed” her parents agreed in unison
Amaka said nothing. The conversation was on thin ice
“If you had married him now...” There it was. It had only taken thirty seconds for her mother to find a nerve and jump on it.
“I mean I don’t understand eh. The man was ready to accept you. After everything” Ulonna Nwafor clicked her tongue.
Amaka remained quiet, she could do this. Survive this afternoon and your duty is done till Christmas.
“God continues to bless you. Yet you throw it away and laugh in His face”
“I hear the Governor’s daughter follows him around like a lost goat” her father added
“So many women want to marry him now. Rich doctor like that.” Her mother ran her eyes over Amaka’s face. Disappointment deepening frown lines.
“How many women with children have the chance to marry? Eh how many?” Ulonna questioned her voice rising
“I don’t know what we ever did to you” she eyed Amaka like nothing would give her greater pleasure than to punish her as she used to.
“It is not your fault. It is the devil. He must be cast out” her father mumbled
“Chukwuma called my children born sinners and told me I must answer for mine on the Final Day” Amaka cut in
“So?!” Ulonna eyed her. “That is why you chose to jeopardise your children’s future. They could have a father by now”
“Not one who loves them”
“You are waiting for that fraudster to come back? That useless Yoruba boy to return from America” Ulonna dusted her palms together and folded them under her breasts.
Amaka quickly glanced at the twins in the other room. Chiamaka’s curious eyes were on her mother and with a huge smile Amaka rose to them. They did not need to hear this. She pulled out a Shark Tale DVD from her bag and sat her children in front of the 35inch flat screen. When she returned her mother was shaking her foot so fast it seemed to have a life of its’ own.
“We are praying for you” her father resumed
“I don’t even know why we are still discussing Chukwuma. That was 4 years ago”
“We know how long it has been”. Ulonna hissed
Amaka looked at the clock; she had only been here fifteen minutes. She was doing well so far, this time last year she was fuming beneath the surface. Now she just couldn’t be asked. Soon they would proceed to her disregard for the place of religion in her children’s lives, touch on their slow progress in learning Igbo, chastise her for moving to Abuja, and for the grand finale inform her she would end up alone because the older the children got the less likely any man would be willing to raise them as his own. Chukwuma was her last and only chance. Sure enough as time moved on slowly, her parents stuck to the script and berated Amaka for all she was worth.
When the kids were done watching their cartoon, they all proceeded downstairs to the restaurant for lunch. Her mother cleared her throat and began her traditional long winded prayer marathon. She prayed God would resurrect Amaka’s faith as he did Lazarus, asked the Virgin Mary coach her against the sins of the flesh, and lead her to a purer path. Amaka sniggered here...she was not sure she remembered how to sin with her flesh. Ulonna placed her grandkids in the arms of the Lord and committed their souls to salvation, pleaded that the sins of their parents not be re-visited upon them. Amaka opened one eye to spy Chiamaka yawning widely and Chibuzo licking ketchup off his finger; she winked at them and signalled they be quiet. Her poor babies were hungry. At home, prayers were a simple “Bless this meal”. Finally, twenty minutes later they could eat.
During their meal Chibuzo reached for a drum stick with his left hand; Ulonna Nwafor slapped his palm immediately.
“You are a child of God. Use your right hand”
“Big Mommy lets me use any hand I want” Chibuzo sulked
“As long as it’s clean” Chiamaka added
“Well what do you expect from a Yoruba woman” her father sneered
“Dirty people. No table manners” Ulonna stared at Amaka. Amaka returned the glare chewing. It was customary for Femi’s parents to receive insults as well.
At the parking lot, her parents’ placed their palms on the twins’ forehead to pray for them before turning to Amaka with a resigned sigh. They were returning to Anambra next week after a visit at her older sister’s house in Lekki, Lagos. Ada was the golden goose: a lawyer, married to an Igbo man, with two sons and the most uptight stuffy person Amaka knew. The day she found herself that unhappy with her life Amaka made a promise to seek mental help. Unfortunately Ada was raising her children just as their mom raised them; so Amaka assumed the children were unhappy as well. Constant monitoring is not a life. It is prison. Parents turned back to their hotel and Amaka wondered how Ada could know her husband Obinna was a homosexual and still stay married to him. Living in denial and pretending everything was okay must surely be killing her. Surely her sanity was more important than remaining the favourite offspring. For Ada appearances seemed to matter more than happiness and her parents in conjunction continued to ignore the cracks beneath the veneer. Amaka drove the kids to get some ice-cream and celebrate surviving another family lunch.
Evening approached and Amaka was home. She sat with Nabsy in her living room watching Ben 10 with Chibuzo while Chiamaka gave her favourite Aunt a makeover.
“Aunty Sit still” Chiamaka scolded as she parted thick hair to oil it. “Don’t you want it to be fine?”
“Of course I do”
“Then keep your head like this” Chiamaka bent her neck at a painful angle and Amaka laughed
“If you were not the best hair dresser in Abuja, I wouldn’t waste my time coming here” Nabila rubbed her sore neck. Chiamaka blushed and resumed oiling with vigour
“Mommy is it true?”
“So I can be a hairdresser? Because grandma said I should be a doctor”
“You can be whatever you want to be. A hairdresser, a florist even a power puff girl”
“Mommy I can’t be a power puff girl. I need chemical X for that”
“Duh” Nabila agreed shaking her head at Amaka. They shared a smile
With the twins asleep after a game of monopoly Nabsy and Amaka got down to grownup talk. Once again, Nabila was trying to play match maker and hook her up. This time with one of Jamal’s business associates.
“Don’t you ever give up?” Amaka spooned ice cream into her mouth. She would blame the missing vanilla tub on Nabila should the twins ask for it.
“I want you to be happy”
“Okay I want you to get laid”
Amaka laughed and took the business card although she knew that no matter how perfect this Ikenna Nwosu turned out to be she would come home waiting for her phone to ring and Femi to say he was returning home to his family. He left to ‘hammer’ and promised he would return soon. That was four years ago but every day Amaka waited for news from New York. Waited for Femi to tell her he was coming home to her and his kids.
The minute Femi was out of the picture her parents forced Chukwuma on her. The only Catholic more fanatic than that man was the pope himself. Spoke down to Amaka like he had a VIP pass into heaven. He was not for her; she tried to explain to her parents but it was difficult to take a stand whilst she lived under their roof and they raised her children. One day she could take no more, she packed up belongings and drove away. Got on the plane and begged Nabsy to meet her at the airport when she landed in Abuja. Right now, mentioning the fact she still loved Femi would only start Nabsy on a fit of insults and a ‘forget about that (insert expletive)’ lecture. So she glanced over the card without registering the details and promised to answer when Mr. Nwosu called. Nabila made her save the number on her phone and insisted they practice her sexy voice. Amaka obliged her
“Jamal and I are thinking of starting a family”
“Oh my God that’s wonderful Nabsy” Amaka jumped to hug her.
“You better put us on that list”
“As soon as you pee on the stick you will be placed at number one” Amaka kissed her cheek. She loved Nabsy and Jay very much and after all they had done to help her she wanted their happiness more than anything. She moved out of her parents’ home when the twins were just two years old and Jay helped her find an apartment within her means. Luckily for Amaka her father had set up a savings account in her name from the day she was born. She cleared it, placed a deposit on her two bedroom flat and loved it into a home. The walls were lined with pictures and artwork, a framed studio shot of her and her babies with smiles as bright as the sun.
The candy paint changed hues in each room, they were dirty dishes from dinner in her sink, Nabila’s Usher CD was loud, and the twins were in pyjamas sleeping on the carpet. The Pocahontas DVD in pause on the TV, Ginseng hair cream and cutting comb still on the coffee table and not one religious memorabilia in sight. In short, it was the stark opposite of her childhood home in Anambra. She loved the disorganised mess that came with children and smiled whenever she came across a crayon be it in their toy box or behind the sofa. That was the life of kids; nothing was sacred. So the sofa was for jumping on, the carpet a spare bed and walls sometimes made better drawing boards. She scolded but was careful not to tame their spirits. She would not beat creativity and wit into submission. Amaka was determined their lives would be unrestricted and fun and free. They were 6 year olds and they would act like 6 year olds.
Before Nabila left she helped carry Chibuzo to his bed tucking him in. “This will be you soon” Amaka whispered as Nabsy kissed his forehead goodnight.
Nabila did not explain Jamal’s reaction the first time she suggested they try for a baby. She no longer argued with him and he had moved back into the Master bedroom. She was determined to have a child and would do that by any means necessary. Nabila needed something from her sister’s office so the next day she insisted they bring Rabi along for lunch. Surprisingly Amaka was hesitant and proceeded to act uncomfortably towards her sister the rest of the afternoon. Even when Rabi complained of missing materials and kits from her store room, Amaka offered bland sympathy. Nabila excused herself when they dropped Rabi off at the fertility centre
“Amaka is everything alright?”
“Why wouldn’t it be?” Amaka asked Rabi back
“You seem a little annoyed”
“Really? Do you recommend I rent a hotel room in The Hilton to cool off?”
Rabi did not know what to say and was sure she was making connections where they needn’t be any. “Hotels are not only for that. People go there for lots of reasons.” She responded slowly. Could Amaka know? No, it wasn’t possible. She was jumping to conclusions.
Amaka did not know what to think but she knew the sight of Jamal and Rabi in the hotel lobby made her uncomfortable. She was there for the 24hour pharmacy as a cold had kept Chiamaka awake all night. With two drowsy 6 year olds in the car she saw her friend’s husband and his sister in law stroll out of the Hilton reception and towards their cars. Amaka did not care what century they lived in, there is nothing else that a grown man and woman had to do in the reception of a hotel lobby at that hour. However Amaka never jumped to conclusions giving everyone and anyone she came across the benefit of doubt. Always. It was the mantra she lived by. Amaka trusted her belief in humanity and reigned in her imagination.
She had planned to mention it to Nabila anyway but on hearing that she and Jamal planned to start a family it was clear that whatever was going on was clearly over. As long as it ended well, no one need find out. Never interfere in a marriage no matter the capacity, Rabi knew that. She was a 28year old woman not a child and she had protected her sister Nabila all their life. She would never hurt her. The weekend brought Jay and his offer of lunch, Amaka listened to him. He seemed happy, happier than she had seen him in almost a year. Nabila was close to ecstatic so Amaka decided to swallow her tongue praising God that the age old rule of men returning to their wives held true for her friend. And now they wished to start a family. All’s well that ends well.
It had now been two months since Jamal first turned down Nabila. Two months since she cried herself to sleep. Two months since she decided that she deserved a baby giving what she put up with. Two months since it stopped to matter what the hell Jamal did because she had a plan. Nabila had never been more focused and determined in her life. She read up on conception and followed the rules to the letter. She varied her diet and consumed fish and whole grains. Her water intake was spot on the recommended 2L. She started to exercise; cycling for 20minutes a day. Most importantly she cut the stress in her life. She remained polite but never stressed anyone or herself. Jamal was free to do as he pleased and her mother became white noise. Instead Nabila immersed her free time into landscaping. Gardening helped her relax and drawing out plans for seed dispersal actually made her happy. She had an irrigation sprinkler system installed and dug the earth herself. If it did not look right the first time; she had a go at it again till her shoulders ached. Wore out her gardening gloves, shopped for seeds, built an arsenal of shovels and spades and borrowed tips from Babayaro, her mother’s gardener.
The gift of flowers is one of the few she was blessed with and at her talented finger tips: geraniums, freesia, chrysanthemums, carnations, and ambrosias sprang up bringing to life what she imagined Frances Burnett’s Secret Garden to resemble. Watching them bloom prevented her obsessing about getting pregnant; she would have driven herself mad with a single fixation that powerful. The flowers although diligently planted to receive much light were cleverly mapped out across squidgy lines on the grass so they looked like they sprung up by accident. Everywhere was coloured with something in bloom. Nabila had never been more proud of herself.
Amaka dropped her off and Nabila wished she could confide in her, but it would be too soon. Any sooner and it might jinx her luck. Nabila had previously stolen a fertility monitor and temperature chart from her sister’s office; she had listened with a solemn face to Rabi’s frustration as she complained over lunch about thievery but her determination to get pregnant left no room for guilt. As she kept Amaka and Rabi waiting for her return she stole her final ingredient: some tablets to knock Jamal out. Tonight was the perfect night to conceive. Tonight was the day before her ovulation. Tonight her cervical mucus was thin and clear, she checked. Tonight she was going to drug her husband and coax him to ejaculate into her.
Jamal returned from work and followed his routine: inhaled his late lunch then went out, returning past midnight. Nabila greeted, followed him upstairs and lay down to sleep shutting her eyes. When she heard his breathing measured and slow she stood and lowered the air conditioner to make sure his sperm got really cool. It was better that way. She then waited for an hour. At the perfect time right when goose bumps began to appear on his arms Nabila watched him stir awake. Then drift back almost unconsciously; she had spiked his aromatic tea before he went to bed. Too tired to do more than accept the cold, he lay zoned out. Nabila undressed and climbed atop her husband. She slid his penis out of his pyjama trousers and began to massage it. As he got aroused Nabila listened to her husband make noises she had forgotten could come out of him. His now erect penis throbbed warm in her hands.. She guided his penis into her and began to gyrate atop him, praying for just one of the little bastards to fertilise her egg. Nabila hated the method of this but wanted the results too badly
“Bee Bee” Jamal mumbled
“Yes its Nabsy”
After ejaculation Nabila stealthily rolled off him and lay on her back with her knees to her chest and feet in the air. She maintained that position for longer than was necessary; praying non-stop. Eventually she got up and cleaned Jamal with a cloth wipe, she tucked him back in, increased the temperature of the air conditioner and went to sleep with a smile on her face.