Oh well, you guys seem to really like it, and J.K Rowling got rejected by 14 publishers before she made it so we'll keep writing! Enjoy
Nabila Mujahid blinked against the light as she arose. The morning unfurled in all its glory splashing red and gold beams on white clouds. She tossed the sheets off her like a woman with something to accomplish today. Mentally going over her chores: exercise, weeding and watering her garden, buying bedding plants...Unconsciously she ran her fingers through her hair, perhaps she should get a steam treatment. Maybe a sauna massage also. Will that heat be good for the baby? She had to check first.
Jamal Mujahid sat at his dining table scoffing down fried plantain while reviewing a new contract deal. Unexpectedly his wife joined him for breakfast, singing her greeting. He glanced at Nabila as she stroked her hair. She had no idea how much she looked like her sister when she did that. Sipping his tea, he wished it was Rabi wearing the ivory silk chemise and staring at him
“Kin tashi - You’re awake” he said in mock horror.
“I wanted to see you off to work” Nabila answered acknowledging it was 7.00am
Jamal wanted to raise an eyebrow but his head felt heavy. It hopped between numbness and hyper sensitivity. If he didn’t know better he would think he was waking up with a mild hangover but all last night afforded him were flashes of a vivid sexual dream he had about Rabi. Jamal squinted and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Are you alright?” Nabila asked concerned
“It’s just a little headache”
“I think you should drink some water. Maybe you’re dehydrated”
Jamal considered the possibility. Nabila sipped on her glass of water as the cook promptly laid out a plate setting for her. Minutes later he returned with the pancake and scrambled eggs she had requested
“That was quick, thank you” Nabila said smiling. Both the cook and Jamal stared at her in shock. Nabila unaware munched on her breakfast heartily, humming as she refilled her glass with orange juice.
Amaka Nwafor cursed silently under her breathe as she dumped Chiamaka in the bathroom to have a shower. Urging her daughter to brush like the wind and insisting Chibuzo dress faster. They were running 30minutes behind schedule and that meant they were very, very, late. Those minutes would have been spent setting up lunch boxes, running the school bag inspection for pencil cases and homework, preparing an omelette for breakfast and leaving the kids to enjoy their fruits in front of the television while she put on her makeup. The new time constraint would not allow for normal procedure today. Instead they would all have to munch on meat pies in the car while she prayed they made it past rush hour traffic.
By 12.00 noon Amaka was worn out. She conceded that she would spend the remainder of her day chasing the lost half hour, desperately trying to claw it out of every spare minute. The twins were irritable on the school run, grumbling about missing their show and asking if they could have ice cream instead of the cold meat pies she rummaged out of the fridge. Stuck in traffic, Amaka applied her makeup in the rear view mirror and the twins were 12 minutes late into their first period. She rushed to the school hall to see that the non-teaching staff meeting had begun without her and had to remain behind with the Headmistress to review minutes she missed. This in turn made her late to her first admission visit with the Al-Bashir’s from Kano. Hausa royalty did not take kindly to waiting around so she spent longer explaining the school facilities to them and insisted on showing little Aisha around herself. It was Amaka’s break time but she had a stack of paper work to go through. Although she worked at the school her children attended Amaka hardly set foot in their classrooms in light of being fair and minimising bias. She was grateful for her job which accorded that the twins be granted immediate admittance, school fees at a generous staff discount and the gift of spending all day with her babies. For this reason, Amaka avoided using her position for leverage whenever she could help it.
It was more appropriate for the children to come into her office; as was allowed with every other pupil at Elite Primary School. At 12.01pm Chiamaka came in, followed 5 minutes later by Chibuzo. Amaka had insisted they be placed in different arms so they made friends outside of one another, this sometimes meant different break times. They sat on her chair and played with the lever, took turns spinning each other around and conned her out of lollipops. For a while Amaka watched them and felt angry at Femi. How could any parent choose to miss out on this? Because Femi had a choice, they were not living in squalor. He did not have to go America to make his fortune. What drove him away was his ego. A need to prove his parents wrong, that he could make it on his own. Four years later and he was still trying. He had not even called his children in over five months. It was alright now, when the twins thought mommy was a superhero and daddy some sort of prince in exile but they were getting older and soon “daddy will be back soon” will cease to be enough.
After the twins left, Amaka allowed the feeling of loss to overcome her, engulfed in all she had to do on her own. All that had to be accomplished before she could put her feet up today. She missed Femi and wanted him home. But all she had were stories buried in nostalgia. Living her life for what once was. Amaka wanted her children to know how funny and charming and handsome their father is. How he was always the life of the party.
Femi, the only man she ever hugged, kissed, made love to, bore kids for. He was her first everything. And he could not find the time to send a bloody email, a ‘thank you for raising the kids’ text. The last time they spoke, she chastised him for not checking in regularly enough, inquired as to why his number never went through. What if we need you? She asked him
“Maka it’s you hun. As long as you’re with them I will never worry” he replied confidently.
Amaka sighed. She just wanted the chance to feel like a woman after a day of being a mom. It has been so many years since she felt sexy or went out on a date. She flipped to the next page in her day planner and saw Chibuzo had written in purple crayon I Love You Mom. Amaka wiped a tear from her eye and went back to work.
At the end of the school day, Amaka walked her children to their respective after school activities. Chiamaka had changed into her uniform for girls scout and Chibuzo excitedly ran into his music class. With a wave at their teachers, her colleagues, Amaka walked back to her office. The end of the day finally arrived and Amaka drove home exhausted. The kids had their baths while she stirred spaghetti, blended tomatoes for the sauce and fried meatballs. She tossed salad, knowing she would have to threaten before its eaten. The twins told her about their day and re-enacted the scene from Lady and the Tramp; slurping the spaghetti strings one at a time and making a mess. “As long as you clean it up” was her only warning. After homework they were awarded one ice cream scoop each and watched Jungle Book till bedtime. All three knelt by the bed to pray and Amaka remembered how frightened the twins used to be of ‘Now I Lay Me down To Sleep’ because the final line spoke of dying, “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Seeing no reason to put her babies through that, Amaka suggested they recite personal versions, of what they would like God to do while they slept. On their insistence, she helped make it rhyme.
Chibuzo led the first half of his prayer:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
See me safely through the night,
and wake me with the morning light.
Chiamaka continued with her second verse:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord, my soul to keep.
May angels watch me through the night,
and keep me in their blessed sight.
Amaka kissed each forehead goodnight and retired to her parlour to watch Grey’s Anatomy. She prepared sandwiches for the lunch boxes tomorrow, placed ice lollies in the freezer, ironed school uniforms, Nabsy called to chat, a quick double check that all the doors were bolted and she soon knelt by her bed reciting her night prayers:
This night I lay me down to sleep
I give the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the lord my soul to take
Four corners of my bed
Four angels over head
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
Bless this bed I lay upon
I lay my head on our lady's knee
Jesus come this night and save me
Heart of Joseph I adore thee
Heart of Mary I implore thee
Heart of Jesus pure and just
In those three hearts I place my trust.
Amaka had barely settled beneath her duvet when her phone rang. Not wanting to wake the children she answered immediately. Lo and behold it was the prodigal husband
“Maka” his gruff voice clearing the day’s exhaustion from her bones
“Femi. What is going on? Where have you been?”
“It’s okay. Everything is fine. You worry too much” he sounded like she was overreacting
“It has been three months Femi. Three months!”
“I just ran into a little problem that’s all. I did not want to worry you darling”
“When are you coming home?” Amaka asked like many times before
“Soon” Femi replied like many times before
“Please just come back. I miss you. The kids miss you”
“When it all works out; it would all have been worth it. You’ll see”
This was not about her. It was about his stupid battle of wills with his parents. Amaka could not believe a man who had not seen his children since they could barely make sentences, was talking about his absence being ‘worth it.’ Where was he when Chiamaka ran a high fever at 2am? Where was he when Chibuzo fractured his arm playing with his friends? Where was he when her parents told her she would always be alone? Amaka had a long day and could feel the bile rising in her throat.
“Femi don’t bullshit me. I want a specific answer”
“Amaka what has gotten into you?”
“You Femi. You have gotten into me. You don’t seem to appreciate me or how hard this is”
“Of course I do sweetheart. I love you and I wish I could be there but...”
“But what? Eh Femi? The only person preventing you from being here is you”
“That is not fair”
“What is not fair is you choosing your ego over your responsibility as a father”
“Why are you saying these hurtful things?”
“Femi come home. Please I am begging you.”
“Maka let me just hammer this big one.”
“Let me wake the kids then. So they can hear your voice”
“I have to go” Femi interrupted her. “We’ll have to continue this another time. Take care.” With that the line abruptly cut. Amaka stared at the receiver in her hand and felt engulfed in hopelessness. She did not know when next Femi would call and she for one was tired. She had to face the fact that Femi may never return; at least not until he was good and ready never mind those who needed him. Amaka was tired of putting her life on hold for someone who wasn’t even her husband. It has been four years and while she had kept her promise, could she really say the same for him? Before she knew it the twins would be off to boarding school; she would have to learn to have a life.
Inhaling a deep breath Amaka dialled the stored number on her phone.
“Hello” a tenor voice answered
“Hel-lo” Amaka said slowly her voice shaking. She had never done this before
“Am I speaking to Mr. Nwosu?”
“This is Ikenna. Who is this?”
“I got your number from...”
“Oh my God another one!” He exclaimed
“What?” Amaka sputtered confused
“Listen lady. Get a life. Have some dignity for Chrissake.”
“Dignity” Amaka echoed
“Yes dignity. It’s what prevents women from calling strange men at work”
“Work?” It was 10.30pm
“I am a very busy man” Mr. Nwosu continued. Hinting at Amaka to go away
“I’m so sorry to have disturbed you” Amaka apologised out of habit
“Don’t be sorry. Don’t call me again”
There was a click, then dial tone. Amaka stared at her phone. “I have suffered” she whispered to herself before turning to sob softly into her pillow, careful not to wake the kids.
The weekend meant one glorious thing to Amaka. An extra pair of hands. They came in various forms; a neighbour, a best friend. This Saturday it was the honour of her would be in-laws, The Cokers. Femi’s parents lived in the centre of Abuja, not far from Nabila’s parents, The Bellos. The twins went to visit roughly once a month and were always excited to go, mostly because of the swimming pool in the backyard. They packed their swimming trunk and swimming costume complete with inflatable toys before Amaka had even gotten up. They assaulted her in bed jumping and chanting “mommy let’s start going.” Amaka too tired to argue, called to say they were on their way and only offered an apple for breakfast knowing the kids would want to jump straight in the pool once they got there. She drove in and was met in front of their impeccable home by both Kunle and Lade Coker. As always Amaka was embarrassed by the act, it always felt like she kept them waiting. She strolled to the couple, knelt good morning and stood aside while they fussed over the children. The twins stayed long enough not to be rude before running towards the pool and diving in without a care in the world. Lade Coker shouted for the housegirl, Bisi, to take station by the water and watch over the twins. Amaka was led into the house and placed on the sofa like a trophy.
“Thank you so much for letting the twins swim around”
“Why of course” Kunle Coker said. He spoke what Amaka liked to call Old English. Dragging the last syllable of every word and ending it with a lilt. The first time she met him, she knew he was an Oxford man
“It is lovely to have the children over” Lade chipped in softly. Her non-verbal communication being she would like to see them more. Amaka did not know how to explain her need to be the primary care giver so she didn’t bother
The silence went on for longer; but it was not uncomfortable. That was what Amaka liked about the Coker residence; there was never any useless chatter. If there was nothing to say; nothing was said and it was perfectly acceptable. She laid her head back and closed her eyes
“When last did you hear from Femi?” Lade asked with slightly wet eyes
“Oh. So he is alright?”
“Yes ma. He sends his love”
“No he doesn’t.” Kunle said “No need to be polite my dear, we know our son. He is an egomaniac, not even his children could make him return”
“Big Daddy...” Lade cautioned
“It’s true” Kunle insisted. Amaka did not protest.
She watched Kunle reach across the sofa and pat his wife’s hand. It was brief but filled with affection. He was so tender with her. Amaka always told Femi that he took his parents for granted. He insisted that based on the Nwafors every family looked golden, Amaka did not argue.
However years later saw an absent Femi and still she stuck to her guns. The Cokers were good people, genuinely good people and it was unfortunate they were blessed with a son that refused to acknowledge that. Kunle Coker was a retired lawyer, a self-made millionaire, and tried really hard to instil the lesson of hard work but Femi wasn’t interested. He was surrounded by peers who spent their parents’ political and ill-gotten money without a care in the world and labelled his father as a kill joy because he was kept on an allowance. Fast forward to University and Femi paid no attention to his studies, too busy on the lookout for the next big thing. He barely graduated very nearly getting kicked off the course.
When Amaka fell pregnant, Femi pushed his father for a loan totalling millions of naira. Kunle instead offered him a job. Femi viewed this as a clear power play and the discord began. As Amaka waited to be rescued from her parents’ house in Anambra State by her knight in shining armour, and married to the love of her life. Femi continued to argue for money, calling his father unsupportive of his dreams even pushing for his inheritance upfront. Kunle refused each tactic, insisting Femi grow up and with that battle lines were drawn. Femi promised to return from America wealthier than his father, he swore on it. “Then I will marry you,” he said to Amaka, “in a big wedding that all your sisters will be jealous of.” Amaka didn’t care about that, but Femi obviously did.
Lade got up to fetch Amaka something to drink ignoring her offers to help. She could tell how lonely the woman was. She just wanted her family all together, Amaka could relate with that.
“Where is Sade?” Amaka asked Kunle
“Ah she’s resting” his eyes lit up when he spoke of his daughter.
“Is everything alright?”
“Eh her Autism is more manageable now” Kunle cast his eyes to the ceiling
“Or we’re better with dealing with it. We’ve had eighteen years of practice” he laughed. Amaka joined in. For all his money and good intentions in the world Kunle was given two children: a son allergic to hard work and a daughter who was confined to her own world
“Here we are my dear” Lade dropped a tray of wafers and a bottle of Fanta with a glass on the table beside Amaka. She made to pour
“Ah Big Mommy please” Amaka rushed to stop her nearly toppling the tray in the process.
“The girl can pour her own drink” Kunle scolded gently and patted the cushion next to him for his wife to sit”
Lade was so eager to please that it ended up putting Amaka on edge. She sympathised with the woman’s pain; her only son never contacts her and her daughter had good days and bad. She viewed Amaka as a surrogate and sometimes was too kind, almost as if to make up for Femi’s flights of fancy. It always seemed like the woman was grooming her for something, it took Nabila to help Amaka see it.
“You are her saviour” Nabila said that night two years ago
“She is hoping you’ll be the one to tame Femi and bring him to his senses”
“I have no control over Femi” Amaka protested
“Not the way she sees it. You are the good girl that will help her son settle down. As long as you are around, Femi will come home. That is why she is so nice to you. You are her life line to her son. The day you leave, you take the grandkids and him away”
“She has Sade”
“You know it’s not the same”
“I’m going to check on the kids” Lade announced gravitating towards the sound of laughter
“More like watch over them” Kunle said when his wife was out of ear shot. Amaka smiled
They sat in silence, with occasional chit-chatter about work and the twins and current affairs. Kunle spoke slowly and without burden. There was no emotional blackmail involved, nor exaggerated lip service. Mostly it was silence, beautiful calming silence that Amaka rested in. She liked Kunle Coker. Just as she did the first time she met him, he pointed at her four months pregnant tummy and said boy-girl twins. He was right.