Amaka Nwafor watched intently as her daughter played with her friends. All the children from the homes that made up the compound were playing outside, enjoying their Saturday morning. Toddlers huddled together sharing toys while their mothers’ swapped recipes and the older boys played sweaty football screaming out fouls and penalty kicks at the youngest who grudgingly accepted to be referee.
Chiamaka and the rest of the girls played ten-ten at the farthest corner of the field. Under a shade provided by a mango tree they clapped their hands and stamped their feet singing in unison “open, close, faster, faster, kick, open, faster, faster...”Chiamaka landed awkwardly each time failing to get in sync with the rhythm, scrunching up her nose as she lifted her knee higher in an effort not to come last. Amaka stood up and walked across the makeshift football pitch, reaching her daughter she grabbed her ears and led her back towards the house
“Ouch ouch” Chiamaka yelped
Chibuzo seeing that his sister was in big trouble rushed to get his father who stood over the mechanic fixing Amaka’s car.
“Daddy, Maka J is in trouble”
“With who?” Femi asked scanning the mango tree for signs of a quarrel “and what have I told you about calling your sister that”
“Mommy is angry with her” Chibuzo said hopping impatiently on one foot “Mommy is angry with Chiamaka” he later corrected. “Let’s go” he said pulling on his father’s shirt
Walking into the house, Chiamaka sat on a chair wincing as her mother cleaned an open wound with a damp cloth. The sight of the iodine sent her into tears, edging away from the brown soaked cotton wool Amaka tried to press into her cut
“Sit still” she snapped in Igbo
“Mommy please” she cried “Daddy” she pleaded once she caught sight of him at the door
“Amaka what happened?” Femi asked calmly
“This children will not kill me. Mba it will not happen” Amaka shook her head as she applied pressure on the wound. Chiamaka cried louder. “She injured her knee, maybe yesterday or something and didn’t tell me. If I hadn’t noticed it today only God knows what would have happ...my friend if you move.” She warned her daughter when she tried to back away. “What if it got infected?” she asked Femi, “What if it had to be amputated?”
Femi Coker nodded his head slowly; Amaka was obviously losing her marbles. It was only a grazed knee nothing serious besides it was natural for children to hide wounds from their parents for this exact reason, they hated the scolding and iodine ritual that came afterwards. Still he was smart enough not to use the word “overreacting.” He waited for her disinfection process to end before he added gently “Maka you are scaring the children.” Amaka looked up from the cloth she was bunching around her daughter’s knee to see her tear stained cheeks and Chibuzo hiding behind his father’s knee.
Amaka was quiet for a moment. Femi jumped in “Okay so what have we learnt? If you cut yourself you tell mommy straight away okay,” the children nodded with heads bent. “Good now both of you go to the fridge and finish that ice cream there. Don’t come back till the bowl is clean. Do you hear me?” They did not wait to be told twice.
“Maybe I overreacted” Amaka said as she closed the First Aid box.
Femi did not gloat
“You have been intense for the past week” he said sitting down
“It’s just that time I guess”
Femi was smart enough not to fall into that one
“That is not it” he disagreed. Amaka eyed him, “Its Nabila” he continued unperturbed, “Her miscarriage, it’s affecting you more than you will admit. Since then you have been extra protective with the children”
“You don’t know what you are talking about” Amaka threw used cotton balls into the trash can
“Monitoring their playtime, shoving Swedish Bitters down their throats, bandaging minor cuts...” Femi looked at her “Nothing is going to happen to them Maka.”
“How do you know? Accidents happen. At any moment when we’re not looking...”
“I need you to relax. Will you like me to take them away for a couple of days or so? Give you time to clear your head”
“They are my children Femi”
“I understand Amaka, but just now...dragging her into the house like that...”
Amaka stopped and looked at the wall, at the portrait of the three of them. She promised herself their childhood would be unlike hers. They would be free to run around and be children. What she did right now was not the mothering style she preached. It was frightening what came over her.
“Come” Femi outstretched his arm. Amaka didn’t take it. He got up and took it for himself, pulling her to the couch
“Sit and listen” he instructed. The twins laughed in the kitchen “ice cream fixes everything. She’s forgotten about it already”
“I will never forgive myself if something were to happ”
“Nothing will happen”
“How do you know?”
“Because it’s not their time”
“How do you know?”
“Sssh you ask too many questions” Femi lay her head on his shoulders and put his arm around her waist. “Let’s watch TV.” The children finished the tub of Walls Vanilla and presented an empty plastic bowl as proof before running back out to play, informing jealous play mates of their dessert. The mechanic reported he was done with Amaka’s car. A neighbour asked permission to borrow the baking trays. Femi and Amaka did not move.
After dinner, the kids revelled in staying up late on the weekends and searched through DVDs for the perfect movie while their parents made a snack. Femi chuckled as he dropped Maize into a pot.
“What’s funny?” Amaka asked as she broke a coconut in half
“Do you remember the first time I met Ulonna?” he asked pouring in hot water and closing the lid
“My mother hated you on sight” Amaka laughed
“Hate is a strong word”
“Ignorance is bliss”
“Chinedu wasn’t such a big fan either”
“Oh that’s true. He chased you from the house and threatened to burn you alive”
“But we made it work. Lucky for us your driver was very eager to be bribed”
“Not so easy to sneak around when you’re heavily pregnant”
“Do you remember that time in the car” Femi grinned
“Yes I remember”
“That hotel close to the filling station”
“The changing room in the...”
“Femi I get it” Amaka said with a hand on her waist “Check on the corn”
“Just taking a trip down memory lane”
“Okay it’s time to come back now. That was a long time ago. We were very young”
“And in love”
“Like I said, a long time ago. Have you added salt?”
“Of course I have” Femi replied. When Amaka turned her back he started to look everywhere for it
“Bottom left drawer”
“I swear you have eyes at the back of your head”
Amaka laughed, handing him some coconut before straining and dishing the rest on a plate. “It is an Nwafor secret”
“Well we Cokers are pretty powerful as well” Femi said chewing fast and taking another piece
“Really what will tha-”
Amaka looked at him like he had just said something silly. “Don’t be silly” she scolded. Pouring drinks into four tumblers.
“I am as serious as a heart attack”
“Then take my answer seriously. No”
“I want us to be married”
“I thought we had to win the lottery to get married” Sarcasm soaked Amaka’s words
“I just want to be with you and the kids”
“Oh so pigs really do fly”
“You know what that’s enough. I took your insults and put downs because I deserved it. But I have not put a foot wrong in months and yet you won’t admit that.”
“You know what Femi? Get over yourself. You want a pat on the back for doing what you are supposed to, you have come to the wrong place. And months does not make up for years”
“You just refuse to admit that I am a good father”
“Is that so?”
“Yes it is.” Femi walked up to her
“And why will I want you to fail?” Amaka removed a tray and dusted it
“Because then you will have to face up to the fact that you love me”
“I am not in love with you”
“Yes you are”
“No Femi I’m not and the corn is ready. Don’t ever try to intimidate me again. I am not 18 anymore”
“Neither am I. I am not going anywhere Amaka. Deal with it.”
Back in the living room, she and Femi were all about civility. Laughing with the children and watching the Hunch back of Notre Dame. Amaka didn’t know why the children chose this, it always scared them. Afterwards it was Girls vs. Boys contest, Femi told a riddle “what happens when your nose runs and your feet smell?”
“You’re upside down” Chibuzo shouted. Earning a high five from his father and a point, he stuck his tongue out at his sister
“Mommy it’s your turn” Chiamaka said determined
“If my first name is Amos and my surname is Quito. Who am I?”
“A mosquito” Chiamaka shouted laughing.
It was a good night.
The next morning Amaka woke Femi up by shaking his shoulder, he stirred, stretched and rolled forgetting he was on the couch. He fell to the carpet, landing with an “ow!” “How is it you keep doing that?” Amaka asked laughing; it cracked her up every time Femi stayed over. At first she thought it was a ploy to get into her bed but now she knew he was just that clumsy in the morning.
“Man is not designed to sleep on the couch”
“Well no man sleeps as much as you do”
“I’ve actually been awake for a while. I just drifted off a few minutes ago.”
“You were up?”
“Yes waiting for you”
Before she could ask why, he patted the cushion next to him announcing “Kids mommy is up now”
Chiamaka and Chibuzo strolled in, wearing their Sunday best. As she tried to figure out how Femi got them both washed and dressed without waking her, together they presented a card. Smiling and wondering what game they were playing, Amaka tore open the envelope, “To the Best Mommy.” Amaka placed it down tearing up, it was so unexpected. It was neither her birthday nor Mother’s day; she stood to hug the children but they stepped back. “Oh you want me to open it” she said. Animatedly she did, cello taped to the inside of the card was a ring with the words Mommy please marry Daddy......
Amaka paused and stared at the bright eyes eagerly waiting her answer. She turned to Femi and caught him in a thumbs up to the children, they gave him one back, giggling when they realised they had been caught.
“WELLLLLL” the twins chorused
“It’s a big decision guys” Amaka said wondering how she was going to get out of this one. Femi would pay, she would burn him alive. The twins were in his arms now and confidently he held on to them both. Amaka remembered when he was a stranger who couldn’t pack their lunch’s right and thought after school hobbies were boring. Now he was running for PTA chairman. Picking them up every day and helping with homework while Amaka put her feet up. She didn’t remember the last time Femi complained or fought with his father. Didn’t remember the last time she slept for less than 8hours, the last time she called in a plumber or an electrician. She simply returned from work and noticed the leaky pipe had been fixed, the news channel was no longer scrambled and the AC was silent. Femi did all that. Amaka stared at her daughter’s grazed knee and remembered how Femi handled her melt down and calmed the children. She remembered how they watched TV comfortably for hours when months ago Femi couldn’t be in her house without irritating her. Now he regularly slept over. When did that happen? How did they slip into this role? Maybe she did love him... He was a great father. A father her children wanted, she would do anything for her children.
“Yes” Amaka heard herself say “I’ll marry Daddy”
A massive group hug followed, pushing Amaka off her feet and to the floor, in the midst of the children singing and clapping Femi found her mouth and kissed her.